Home Team Advantage: What Can Business Learn from Sport? with the Rugby World Cup about to Kick off, the Netball World Champs Just Weeks Away and the 100 Day Countdown to the Beijing Olympics in Full Swing, It's Impossible to Avoid Sport. So While It's Dominating the Headlines and Water Cooler Discussions Let's Take a Closer Look at What Sport Can Teach the Business Sector

By Read, Ellen | New Zealand Management, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Home Team Advantage: What Can Business Learn from Sport? with the Rugby World Cup about to Kick off, the Netball World Champs Just Weeks Away and the 100 Day Countdown to the Beijing Olympics in Full Swing, It's Impossible to Avoid Sport. So While It's Dominating the Headlines and Water Cooler Discussions Let's Take a Closer Look at What Sport Can Teach the Business Sector


Read, Ellen, New Zealand Management


And with less than a minute on the clock, New Zealand gets possession and go, go ... go ... scores! New Zealand is the winner.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When it comes to sport, New Zealand punches well above its weight and has a ridiculous number (per capita) of winners. We do okay, very well some would say, in business but we don't have the same national expectation of success and global reputation. Why?

When searching for the reason for our sporting prowess, there are a number of theories ranging from our outdoor lifestyle, pioneer attitude, work ethic and discipline through to the culture of the organisations which pump these winners out. The truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle--a combination of these things which puts us on the sporting winners' podium and may be able to do the same for business.

Mike Pratt is a firm believer in the power of the organisation. His 2000 book Peak Performance (co-authored with Clive Gilson, Kevin Roberts and Ed Weymes) studied top performing sports organisations from around the world, including two from New Zealand--the All Blacks camp and the force behind Team New Zealand.

"The most interesting thing we found is that sports people come and go but some sports organisations manage to sustain peak performance over really long periods of time. So it can't, in those circumstances, be just one or two particular athletes. It is probably something about the way the organisation operates that has led to that peak performance. That was the underlying premise in the book," Pratt explains.

Obviously there are some gifted athletes who can bring something special either to themselves or to an organisation for a period of time, just as there are gifted business people who can bring the same to their organisation--but that is not necessarily the same as building an organisation that is capable of sustaining peak performance over a long period of time, he says.

"One of the things we found about individual performance was that the one common factor in all of the brilliant athletes was that they practised and practised and practised infinitely. It didn't just come by accident or because they had innate genius. It was really that genius in action simply by religious practice."

Pratt says that is a lesson which must apply to business--adopting a philosophy of continuous learning and networking into the global business environment to gain foresight of the next big thing in order to plan what your products and services could be.

"It's a question of really clueing in to value networks and learning networks and really seeing that as very much a part of the way you do business. It's continuous networking and learning and never being satisfied with the status quo because there's always a better way," Pratt says.

He believes business people can never do enough of this--although admits it does have to be balanced with running the operation. "But I do think there is a propensity, certainly within the businesses I often consult with, to get locked into the imperatives of day to day and forget to incorporate into that day-to-day work, the necessity to learn and grow and be better today than you were yesterday.

"So I think the metaphorical lesson is you wouldn't get to be and sustain as a top athlete unless you actually see as part of your working week, the necessity to practise and achieve mastery of all the skills of the profession and to continuously hone those."

Pratt firmly believes that alongside what business can learn from elite athletes, is a strong lesson from sports organisations and how they operate. He talks of their passionate commitment to purpose and the importance of having everyone in an organisation passionately committed to a shared purpose. "That really starts the play and energises everyone," he says. How many business organisations could realistically make that claim?

Mirroring the clarity of purpose which saw him make the New Zealand swimming team at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, NZX chief executive Mark Weldon has clear thoughts about sport and business: success is due to discipline, strategic planning and attitude. …

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Home Team Advantage: What Can Business Learn from Sport? with the Rugby World Cup about to Kick off, the Netball World Champs Just Weeks Away and the 100 Day Countdown to the Beijing Olympics in Full Swing, It's Impossible to Avoid Sport. So While It's Dominating the Headlines and Water Cooler Discussions Let's Take a Closer Look at What Sport Can Teach the Business Sector
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